'Enys Men' returns to San Diego
You should have already caught up with John Wick, so this weekend, steer your attention away from the big Hollywood releases that are always readily available and instead look to a pair of unique cinematic experiences.
If "John Wick: Chapter 4" represents cinema at its kinetic, adrenaline-pumping best then "Enys Men" exists at the opposite end of the spectrum with its slow, haunting tale, but I absolutely love both of them. They represent the wild diversity of film that I adore.
But "Enys Men" played only one night in San Diego cinemas. I was prepared to review the film for its opening date of March 31 but it only had an advance screening in San Diego on Wednesday, and it has now vanished from local cinemas, which makes me sad. If you are determined to find it, it will be playing at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown Los Angeles, both in Los Angeles. And it will ultimately surface on streaming channels so add it to your watchlist.
But "Enys Men" deserves the sacredness of a cinema space to fully appreciate its transcendent qualities.
Mark Jenkin's "Enys Men" has the trappings of a folk horror film but then leaves those elements behind like layers of sedimentary rock for you to excavate later.
I loved what Jenkin said in the press notes.
When I was small we would visit the Merry Maidens, a stone circle not far from my Gran’s house in West Penwith. Legend had it that the 19 stones were the petrified remains of a group of girls punished for dancing on a Sunday. The Pipers had also been set in stone, a distance away from the circle, for their part in the heathen ritual. As we traveled home from seeing the girls I would glimpse the tall, imposing figures of The Pipers, above the hedges, through the gateways, silhouetted against the sky. But they were never where I expected them to be. Sometimes further away, sometimes very close, sometimes, and most unnervingly, not there at all. These images, formed at an impressionable age stayed with me, and some nights, even now, I find myself lying awake, wondering about those stones. What might they be up to, under cover of darkness, out there on their own, on the moor, with no-one watching. What if The Pipers weren’t dead? What if the stones were living? What if the landscape was not only alive, but sentient? This was the starting point for 'Enys Men.'
So while the film is not overtly about this, it is absolutely about that feeling Jenkin experienced and which haunted him.
His "Enys Men" (which translates as "Stone Island") feels like a pandemic film in how isolated its main character is on a tiny, uninhabited Cornish island. We see no one else on the island yet when a visitor asks how the woman referred to as the Volunteer (played by a compelling Mary Woodvine) copes being on her own, she cryptically replies that she is not on her own. The island does appear to hold the ghosts of those Merry Maidens as well as miners who lost their lives, seafarers, and maybe even the Volunteers' own past.
The film's backdrop allows much time for contemplation, and for themes of loss and grief to emerge. But time is fluid here. You are never sure what is past, present or future. They all exist on a strange plane that sometimes feels real, sometimes nightmarish, sometimes poetic.
Shot on 16mm film stock, "Enys Men" itself feels lost in time and arrives like a found artifact. It is hypnotic and beguiling with the visuals as compelling as the sound design. Its pace and deliberate ambiguity mean it is not a film for everyone but if you want something truly unique and boldly original then I urge you to see this in a cinema... if you can find one.
See It On 16mm
And speaking of 16mm, Michael Aguirre of See It On 16mm returns to Digital Gym Cinema on Saturday to share another one of his glorious 16mm film prints. He arrives with his own projector, sets up inside the micro cinema and projects films like "Night of the Living Dead." The whir of the projector may annoy some but to me it is a happy purr that reminds me I am watching a piece of film that has been around for decades and traveled to different theaters before arriving here.
On Saturday, Aguirre will share a "secret" Wes Craven movie, the title – likely a horror film -- will only be revealed when it unspools off the projector on Saturday. Craven is the creator of both "The Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream" franchises, and has directed such cult favorites as "Last House on the Left," The Hills Have Eyes," "People Under the Stairs," and "The Serpent and the Rainbow."
Aguirre fell in love with movies watching old film prints. He now dedicates himself to collecting 16mm films and to preserving as much of film history as he can on actual film.
"So if you're into perfection, if you're into crisp, clear, images, stick to digital," Aguirre explained. "But if you're into analog and an imperfectness about it, there is a great allure to it. I compare it to listening to a record, like an original record. There's hiss, there's pops. It's not perfect, but that experience of seeing it on film, on the big screen, it's a magical feeling that you really cannot get anywhere else these days. I truly believe that it's a special event anytime that film is able to be projected onto a big screen."
It is a wonderful reminder of how film is meant to be enjoyed as part of a community, a community of strangers sitting in the dark and all reacting to story being told. Just like people have been doing for centuries but instead of the glow of a fire to gather around we have flickering images on a screen to enthrall us.